Women bloggers: O for doors to be open

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
Thought to be moderately diverting by Mr Stephen Tall

Mary Reid has tagged me with this ‘ere meme to ruminate publicly on my nominations for the Womens’ Blogger awards.

The People’s Republic has stayed silent on this so far because we are mindful of the ever-sage words of Don Liberali, who points out that the announcement of the Gender Balance Campaign Women Bloggers Award follows on the heels of the Cleggster’s call for the party to stop gazing at its navel. We believe this is a perfectly well made point as it stands, and are keen to avoid a practical demonstration from the Don of the difference between “introversion” and “extroversion”, using, perhaps, fingernails, or some like handy exemplar.

Nonetheless, a round-up of my mixed feelings on this subject is appropriate before I proceed. My first reaction was rather similar to Jonathan Calder’s. It is right and proper that the first suspicion attaching to these things is that they are some sort of reward for being a woman. Which naturally we do not like, having always managed to run an entire Republic perfectly well without any sort of special treatment. The onus is slightly on the organisers to show that this is a good idea. On one count, their failure to do so is deafening, because as Jennie Rigg points out, there are actually more women blogging in toto than men, and among them no shortage of political women bloggers. The rare beasts are the women who blog exclusively about politics and therefore fit easily into the Lib Dem blogosphere created by men, a hierarchical, categorising, one-track world of award categories, aggregators, round-ups and so forth. And it is a leetle crazy for the CGB to be saying, hm, there aren’t enough women bloggers who blog in the same way as men, therefore we should provide an award to encourage them to do so.

I don’t in any case hold with the notion that women will find the presence of an award particularly encouraging. To my mind it just makes the blogosphere look like even more of a closed club with its own unwritten conventions, social networks and quality controls than ever. If you’re a natural techie – male or female – and have that instant sense of entitlement to online presence, you’ll have no trouble blogging. If, like me, you’re not, you won’t see yourself as a natural blogger. There’s something about the printed word – even onscreen – that is still artificially mystical to the averagely technical person. I have written thousands upon thousands of words over the years in letters, in emails, in journals, in various private and public mental exercises. Writing is what I do, how I get through the day. The fact that someone as naturally inclined to splurge words as I am could look at the blogosphere even for one moment and see it as nothing particularly to do with me (granted that it didn’t then take me long to get stuck in) should tell its own story. Women, for a whole host of cultural reasons, are more inclined to assume that a self-sufficient system like the Lib Dem blogosphere has closed doors. But when I did start blogging properly I was almost instantly absorbed into the community, and what had looked, from the outside, like closed doors turned out to be no doors at all. This is the message we need to be putting across to women, that the doors aren’t there, not that there’s a chance they could win something if they get through them.

Having said all that, there are nominations I am itching to make, and so I have an alternative paradigm. I am going to try to see the award in terms of fostering a peculiarly female writing style, and a peculiarly female political style. Because women, on the whole, do write a little differently, and do politic a little differently. I am interested in the question of whether this will enable us, over time, to make a unique contribution to liberal discourse that the male-dominated blogosphere alone could not have made. Perhaps, if we invoke the spirit of Mary Wollstonecraft and gaze at our navels enough, we might discover what this contribution is.

I’m going to be a bit naughty and subvert the meme because not being, as I say, an instinctive blogger type, I don’t actually read that many blogs – of either gender or any allegiance. I will be interested to see what my tags come up with.

Best Lib Dem women’s blog

No question on this one – Charlotte’s my girl. She’s thoughtful, honest, wry, infectiously passionate, incredibly prolific and has an enviable knack of writing posts that attract world class comment threads, in which she is always a keen and facilitatory participant. There is something distinctively female about the way she writes as well – in the best possible way, she is asking her readership for its opinion, as much as pronouncing her own. And her position evolves as the discussion progresses as well (how rare is that?). If you don’t read her, you should. She’s easily a better blogger than many of the mediocre men out there who feel themselves entitled to vomit their inflexible opinions into the multiverse (well, this is a feminist topic; I can be a bit rude). Go girl.

I also love reading Bridget Fox and Paula Keaveney (Paula, to my dismay, seems to be inaccessible from the aggregator at this time).

Best Lib Dem womens’ blog post

Jo Christie-Smith on what female politicians should look like – made me think, made me stare, made me lose my . . . suit. Jo has told me on one of my own comment threads that there is a “tipping point” in positive discrimination; when a legislative body is composed of at least 30% women, the culture changes. More common sense, less aggression, less peacock display . . .  less suits? Roll on that day.

Best non-Lib Dem women’s blog

I’ve never met Jennie Rigg. But she strikes me as a force for good in the world. Her blog is hilarious and compassionate and liberal and warm and cynical (and purple); she is the perfect exemplar of the female blogger who mostly blogs about politics but not always. Her (happily increasingly) frequent contributions to Lib Dem Voice are also the apogee of constructive criticism. We all need a little Jennie in our lives.

Special mention

They’re not on there now, but Jo Anglezarke’s early goon-humour posts made me rock with laughter – I couldn’t comment on them appreciatively because at that point Jo was blogging on MySpace, and frankly the People’s Republic doesn’t need another interweb outlet to waste its life on. But it sometimes strikes me that fresh humour is desperately what the Lib Dem blogosphere needs, and I salute Jo accordingly.

Three women I would like to see blog

Dame Fiona Caldicott, Principal of Somerville College, Oxford

Jenni Murray

The Queen

My tags

These may overlap with others’ tags, so apologies in advance:

Andy Mayer


Jock Coats

Rob Fenwick

Will Howells



  1. Thanks Alix, I’m going to exercise my opt out on this one. I think the timing of the contest has conincided with a rapid increase in the quantity and quality of female political blogging in the party, you own being a good example.

    Seems then an odd time to split the main contest, and do so in such a way that has less categories and an awards ceremony at the usually poorly attended Spring conference. I’m not sure GBTF thought through the signal that sends out.

    The whole thing in short makes me uneasy – swinging between thinking it’s a good idea to publicise the work of the GBTF and a bit of fun, or that the whole thing might be misconceived.

    I’d also prefer to nominate in private on this kind of thing.

  2. Thanks for your nominations which I have duly taken note of. Keep them coming folks!

    In response to some of the comments though, I have a few points to make:

    Firstly, it was Ros Taylor who made the comment that there was a dearth of women bloggers and she was simply expressing her opinion – I cannot speak for her. Jennie Rigg subsequently made the point that there were loads, but did not get the recognition they deserve. That is hardly an argument against these awards, the main aim of which is to raise the profile of women bloggers. It seems we are stuck in a circular argument: “we need to do something to raise the profile of women bloggers because someone supporting initiative designed to raise the profile of women bloggers implied that we aren’t prominent enough.” I’m sorry if my silence in response to that is “deafening” but it’s because it makes my head hurt even thinking about it.

    As I discussed with you previously, the real purpose of these awards (indeed any awards for that matter up to and including the Booker and Academy Awards) is not the gong at the end of the process but the process itself. We’re getting a steady stream of nominations now and even the ones that get just a single nomination (with the possible exception of any nominations we received for something like http://www.lesboslutzxxx.com/blog) will be getting a mention. Then there’ll be a shortlist. Then there’ll be an open vote.

    To be honest, we weren’t even going to have an awards reception originally. The eventual winners will indeed have every right to feel chuffed, but if that was the sole purpose behind doing this we’d frankly be wasting our time.

    Incidentally, since we are on the subject of exposing canards, were did this nonsense about women blogging one way and men blogging in another come from? Jennie made the point that unlike men, most women who blog about politics don’t blog exclusively about politics – a point which you seem to agree on. All I can say to that is: what a load of gender stereotyping nonsense.

    The merest glance of the Lib Dem Blogs aggregate ought to tell you that is totally ridiculous. Jonathan Calder spends half of his time blogging about cats and Shropshire. Millennium and his Daddies blog about Doctor Who – as do a notably large number of other Lib Dem bloggers. Nich Starling, Iain Dale and half the male blogosphere bang on about football all the time (now there’s a gender stereotype). And me? My blog has always been as much about comics, religion and science as it is about politics. Yet despite all this ruthlessly “male” categorising I somehow managed to win an award. Meanwhile, there are plenty of blogs by women which are purely and exclusively about politics. I simply do not accept your reductionist “men = mars, women = venus” argument.

    No one is asking women to blog “like” men and having an awards ceremony is hardly a male concept. Monica Ali and Zadie and Ali Smith didn’t win the awards they won by writing “male” books; Cosmopolitan Magazine’s Fun Fearless Female Awards are not about celebrating maleness.

    In short, I think you’re overanalyising all this.

    In response to Andy’s comments, again, the profile is not at conference, but on the internet. From that point of view it doesn’t matter when we hold the awards. The idea for the awards came out of a recognition that there had been a sudden notable increase in the number of women Lib Dem bloggers and it was something that was thought deserved wider recognition. If we’d held off for the autumn, then the opportunity might have passed. Plus, if we’d held these awards at the same time as the main party/Lib Dem Voice ones in the autumn then I think we most certainly would be open to the charge that all we were offering was a tokenistic wooden spoon to women bloggers.

  3. “the apogee of constructive criticism”

    I was under the impression that I was a terrible troll. Must try Harder.

    As for James’s comment; like all generalisations about gender, there is greater difference among women than there is between women and men (in pretty much every internet test I’ve ever done that provides the result I’ve come out as a typical bloke) but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t gender differences.

  4. “In short, I think you’re overanalyising all this.”

    Really? But that would be most unlike me 😀

    I cannot agree with you that there is no gender difference. I gather from your list of categories (!) that you haven’t quite grasped what I mean when I say women are more inclined to blog about everything. What I am talking about is a sort of holistic fusion of wider life into political writing. Women are more inclined to blog about everything *in every post*. If you aren’t interested in that possibility, then fine, but I (as possibly Jennie?) am rather fascinated by the potential in it, and it would be a shame if the award were not an occasion to discuss it. I repeat, women do, on the whole, write a little differently and do politic a little differently. There has been a flood of feminist ink spilt on these different behaviours. It’s not a particularly controversial point. It seems a little contrary to ignore all that when it could end up leading us somewhere interesting. It is possible to seek equality while retaining – and enlarging – one’s proud sense of bringing some new and different to the political table.

    I do, by the way, entirely agree with the separation of the Gender Balance award out from the main awards, and just to clarify to Andy, I am sure this doesn’t for one moment preclude women from entering the main awards as well.

  5. I’m not saying there is no difference, just that it defies simplistic, reductionist analysis. What’s more, if I had made such arguments you would quite rightly have jumped down my throat! 🙂

  6. Hi Alix 🙂

    I’m really not very good at taking compliments so I’ll just say thank you and turn beetroot if that’s okay?

    I should probably do my own nominations… I have an inexplicable urge to blog today!

  7. Hello! My lap top is back from the dead and I’m back from Kent (not the same thing at all) after a Christmas holiday of no laptop, no internet and no phone signal!!!

    Thank you, Alix, for your nomination; how very exciting! I did look behind me to see if there was any other Jo Christie-smith who’d written a blog post on but it seems you meant me. I’m going to be posting mine up tomorrow as one of my two blog posts a week that I committed to in my vast raft of new years resolutions made a couple of days ago!!

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